Could Manny Machado be better in 2013 than Bryce Harper?
It almost seems like a silly question to ask, considering how much the Baltimore Orioles third baseman was left out of the super-sophomore buzz that the star outfielder generated (along with Mike Trout) since making his splash last year. However, with more than a month having gone by this season, it’s becoming more and more likely that the answer may surprise most baseball fans.
Here’s the thing: Machado currently leads Harper — and is in fact tied for the third in the league — at 1.7 fWAR accumulated over just 32 games thus far, and while the former top shortstop prospect hasn’t drawn walks or hit for quite as much power as Harper (five home runs to nine), he does have better counting numbers with 23 runs and 21 RBIs.
Moreover, it’s his fielding that differentiates his value, as Machado is currently worth 6.9 fielding runs above average compared to Harper’s -0.8 to date — and yes, defense does make a difference.
Slotted in as the No. 2 spot in the Orioles lineup, the former third-overall pick is having little trouble with being a table-setter for Baltimore after a somewhat rough adjustment period that saw him hit .262/.294/.445 in this age-19 cup of coffee.
These days, he’s providing both a power punch to drive in runs and an offensive spark ahead of the heart of the O’s order with a .309/.352/.522 line, hitting the ball with regularity (83 percent contact rate vs. 76 percent in 2012), hitting it hard (21.3 percent line drive rate vs. 13.9), and missing with his bat less (7.1 percent swinging strikes vs. 11.2).
All of those, by the way, make for a more rounded profile than what Harper has to date (particularly in the LD rate).
Now, I know, with the way that the Washington Nationals phenom is crushing the ball, it’s not looking likely that the O’s hot cornerman will be able to surpass his offensive production. And yes, there’s also the fact that Machado didn’t have the kind of unparalleled success at 19 that Harper did.
Still, both are finding ridiculous success at 20-years-old (following Trout’s footsteps, of course), and though it’s easy to be overshadowed by the latter’s buzz, the former is not-so-quietly making his case thus far this season to join the pantheon of young superstars in the league.
At this rate, Machado might end up leading it by the time October rolls around, too.